517: First-rate Man.

If a man is despondent about his work, the best remedy that I can prescribe to him is to turn to a good biography; there he will find that other men before him have known the dreary reaction that follows long-sustained effort, and he will find that one of the differences between the first-rate man and the fifth-rate lies in the vigor with which the first-rate man recovers from this reaction, and crushes it down, and again flings himself once more upon the breach.

(John Morley, “The Great Commonplaces of Reading,” The Critic, Vol. XLVIII, 1906, p. 147).

Anúncios
517: First-rate Man.

516: Much of a Muchness.

A greater concern was that meritocracy would produce an overweening centralized state. The Prussian precedent left Walter Bagehot wary of “establishing, virtually for the first time in England, an organized Bureaucracy.” On the floor of the House of Commons, MPs brandished warnings from Tocqueville and Montalembert against following imperial France’s example, which would inevitably lead to administrative tyranny, the creation of a political clerisy, and “a venal and servile humor” to supplant the English spirit of liberty. Gladstone replied that such worries were “idle, pusillanimous, and womanish,” since Parliament could be trusted to keep the civil service in its place. “In certain continental states the experiment may be perilous, but in England you may make the Civil Service as strong as you please.”

Hearing this, Robert Cecil (later Lord Salisbury) rose to say that “he did not regard that fear as so groundless and unfounded as the right honorable Gentleman appeared to do.” Salisbury’s comprehensive case against Northcote-Trevelyan was dismissed by Gladstone biographer John Morley as “the lazy doctrine that men are much of a muchness,” and no doubt this was Salisbury’s starting point. Beyond ensuring that candidates could spell and add, he thought that selecting the most intelligent men you could find was unnecessary — even positively harmful. Such men would be arrogant and argumentative, and would “look upon their duties as beneath their abilities.” This was not mere speculation, but the attested experience of their supervisors in departments where examination had been implemented. One bitter customs officer cited by Salisbury complained of “a self-sufficiency and presumption, from an imagined superiority in having undergone such examination, and a desire for literature in business, which I have been obliged to check.” This arrogance was bad enough around the office, Salisbury believed, but to the extent that it encompassed the public, it was a threat to their liberties.

More generally, Salisbury predicted that competitive examination would dangerously transform the spirit of government. As he saw it, reformers were seeking to automate the art of politics in a way “manifestly repugnant to the commonest and not the worst feelings of our nature.” Rattling off instances of patronage exercised nobly by Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Johnson, and Robert Peel, Salisbury asked whether it was worth abjuring such acts merely to keep out a handful of slow-witted copyists: “Why should favour and friendship, kindness and gratitude, which are not banished by men from private life, be absolutely excluded from public affairs?” And in the effort to eliminate all unmathematical considerations from the exercise of power, what other human qualities might not be driven out? Mercy? Flexibility? Loyalty to country? It was a dangerous and metastatic idea, this notion that statesmen could govern by formula.

(Helen Andrews, “The New Ruling Class,” The Hedgehog Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, 2016).

516: Much of a Muchness.

514: Scrimmage.

Monarchy, religion, the laws, public opinion, the home, the relations between the sexes, politics, personal habits — nothing is at this moment in a state of stable equilibrium. The revolution in the midst of which we are all whirling and rushing toward some unknown centre is a bloodless one truly, but none the less important. Steam, the printing press, electricity, scientific discoveries, historical researches — these have been the great agents in the place of the tiers état, the guillotine, Robespierre, and Napoleon. But the ”scrimmage” now is as perilous as it was just a hundred years ago.

(Eliza Lynn Linton, “Modern Topsy-Turveydom,” The Eclectic Magazine, Vol. LIII, 1891, p. 63).

514: Scrimmage.

512: A Sense of Profanation.

Shame is a sense of profanation. Friendship, love, and piety, should be mysteriously treated. It is only in very rare, confiding moments, we should speak of them. Many things are too tender to be thought of — many more, to be expressed.

(Novalis; quoted in James Burton Robertson, “Life and Writings of Novalis,” The Dublin Review, Vol. III, 1837, pp. 301–302).

512: A Sense of Profanation.